nytheatre.com review by John Samuel Jordan
August 13, 2006
Is it possible to achieve normalcy? Whose definition is one supposed to follow anyway? Well, that is just what 12-year-old Jason is trying to figure out in Michael Allen's disturbing play, Whiz Kid, a challenging debut for Brilliant Mistake Productions.
Jason is a certified genius, whose mind is so evolved he has had a book written about him. Bored with volumes of memorized knowledge, tired of the quizzes to which he knows all the answers, now he just wants to be a normal kid and have friends. He asks his babysitter, Grace, for advice. Soon Grace explains that she is not perfect (she has sex with her cousin). Then she allows Jason to seduce her. He is only 12 years old.
Then, while taking an advanced calculus class at a nearby high school, Jason meets Matt, a loner on his way to sociopath stardom. Matt half-heartedly becomes friends with Jason, all the while making Jason work on a secret project for him purportedly for the science fair, basically making Jason buy all the components and doing all the work himself. Matt, without force, makes Jason sexually pleasure him. Jason, once again, is only 12 years old.
There are only two adult figures in the story: Jason's mother Diane, and Keith, the author of the aforementioned genius book and "gatekeeper" of Jason's progress. At this point in time, neither have any control over Jason. That is very unfortunate.
Allen's story builds to an obvious conclusion, but ends on a hopeful note. I do recommend that you see this show, even though I believe it needs some work. I had many questions when I left the theatre regarding relationships, mostly between Jason and the two adults in the play, who did not seem integral enough to the storyline. Also there are several logistical problems. For example, how could a 12-year-old afford all the things he was buying for said project?
Eric Henry does a fine job portraying the deep-in-thought confusion and easily-influenced eagerness called upon, but as an actor most likely in his early 20s, he is too old to realistically play a 12-year-old, and that key innate youthful essence is missing. Ibby Cizmar and Michael Koopman, playing Grace and Matt, respectively, have a much easier time locking into their character's psyches, turning out two very honest and enjoyable performances. Both Phillip Bonn (Keith) and Rachel Dorfman (Diane) seemed disconnected to the piece and more importantly to Henry during their scenes, which could be related to script issues, or age issues.
The direction by Helena Prezio is very sharp, even though the overall pace could pick up a bit. Rich Kass's awesome sound design was pleasantly heard throughout the auditorium and Nick Fleming's fight choreography was carried off excellently by Henry and Koopman.
The throughline is wonderful and the message should be loud and clear. Children, no matter how intelligent, are easily influenced. People do not want to talk about it, but kids are having sex at age 12. Is that normal?